In Fahrenheit 451, what are examples of a symbol, a hyperbole, and an understatement?

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dymatsuoka's profile pic

dymatsuoka | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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An example of a symbol is fire, at first used for destructive purposes by the dystopian society described.  The job of "firemen" has been twisted to embody the opposite of what it once was - instead of putting out fires to save lives, firemen now use fire to burn books, stamping out the freedom of thought books represent.  Later, the symbol of fire takes on a positive connotation - to warm the fugitive "book people", who, like the mythical Phoenix, will rise from the ashes of destruction by fire to renew their spoiled society.

The author uses hyperbole in an especially effective manner in Beatty's explanation of the history of firefighting.  He describes the decline of appreciation of the classics with delightful exaggeration, expounding,

"Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten-or-twelve-line dictionary resume" (Part I).

Mildred's conversation is peppered with understatement, reflecting her perpetually vague, anesthetized state which is the result of being so sucked in by mass media entertainment and easy access to drugs.  After spending the night having her stomach pumped because she had overdosed on pills, Mildred, who has no recollection of what had happened, comments in the morning with a mildly puzzled manner,

"Didn't sleep well.  Feel terrible...did we have a wild party or something?" (Part I).

amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The bird is a symbol throughout the book. In some cases, books are described as birds. Describing pages as spreading like the wings of a bird indicates that books have the potential to fly. In other words, books have the potential to escape the kind of oppression and destruction that the firemen have subjected them to. When Montag is at a house where a woman has been hoarding books, he has this experience:

A book alighted, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon. 

In addition, the knowledge and inspiration that comes from books is not relegated to the book itself. Montag can read a book and remember what he's read. Even if the book is burned, the knowledge from the book lives on through him. Compare this to a bird's song. Also, consider the Phoenix. This is a mythical bird which is reborn of its own ashes. It is ironic that this symbol is on Montag's fireman's uniform. In the end, Montag is reborn, having transformed from an illiterate automaton to a curious academic-in-training. 

Clarisse's comment that she is "crazy" is an example of hyperbole. Her uncle has told her that being seventeen goes hand in hand with being insane. This is her uncle's way of being facetious and making it seem natural to be "crazy." Clarisse is actually one of the most sane characters in this book. In this society, it is crazy to have original ideas and to question things. Clarisse tells Montag, "I rarely watch the 'parlour walls' or go to races or Fun Parks. So I've lots of time for crazy thoughts, I guess."

Early in the book, Montag considers whether or not he is happy. After having another conversation with Clarisse, he finally becomes introspective and realizes, "He was not happy. He was not happy." Bradbury repeats this sentence to stress its significance. It is a bit of an understatement to say Montag is not happy. He realizes his entire personality has been contrived and forced upon him. He has yet to discover himself.


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